“Hooves” is the correct spelling of the plural of “hoof”. But “Hoofs” is also correct; it’s just a more traditional version of the singular word, “Hoof.”
What Is a “Hoof?”
A “Hoof” is the horn covering the tip of a foot in ungulate mammals. This means creatures like goats, horses, pigs, cows, and deer have “Hooves,” or “Hoofs.” We usually refer to the plural form of “Hoof” to illustrate or signify the inherent multiplicity of their legs.
“Hoof” stems from “Hof,” an Old English word. The plural for “Hof” is “Hofas” and when annunciated, it sounds similar to “Hooves.”
“Hoofs” vs. “Hooves”
We don’t know how or why the variant shift occurred and it doesn’t follow other accepted spelling rules. For instance, other words like roof, proof, woof or goof don’t follow the same rule. They merely add an “-S” to indicate plural usage and do not have an optional variation of “-VES.”
“Hoofs” is often the more archaic plural use of “Hoof.” But, both “Hooves” and “Hoofs” are equally acceptable and interchangeable. “Hooves” has only come into use within the last century. Some people claim this happened only in the last 40 to 50 years. Before that, “Hoofs” was the accepted spelling for 250 years. “Hooves” notoriety began in the 1970s.
Today, you can find the use of “Hoofs” in academic or professional printing while “Hooves” is more common with casual writing. But, it’s not uncommon to see people using “Hoofs” on websites, journalistic writings and etc.
Publishers and editors may require using “Hoofs” over “Hooves” for stylistic reasons, editorial cohesion or to cut down on printing costs. Other than that, both words are acceptable as the plural form of “Hoof” and there isn’t much difference. For example:
After the accident, we discovered the deer’s hooves sustained damage.
After the accident, we discovered the deer’s hoofs sustained damage.
The main takeaway is to understand that “Hooves” and “Hoofs” are both legitimate variants of the singular word “Hoof.” But today, “Hooves” predominates most writing. The only time “Hoofs” will have strict usage is upon request by an editor, publisher, or other academic writing.
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